Discrimination against employees with Dyslexia and how to avoid falling foul of the rules

A recent Employment Tribunal which received widespread media interest found that the coffee chain Starbucks had discriminated against an employee with Dyslexia as it had failed in its duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Ms Kumulchew, a supervisor at a branch of Starbucks in south-west London, had to undertake duties which included monitoring the temperature of fridges and water at certain times of the day and recording the results.

It was only after mistakes in the record keeping for these duties were discovered that Starbucks accused Ms Kumulchew of falsifying documents. This resulted in Ms Kumulchew being given lesser duties and told she had to retrain.

Starbucks had been made aware by Ms Kumulchew that she has Dyslexia and this affected her ability to accurately record numbers such as the temperatures.

The Employment Tribunal found that Starbucks had discriminated against Ms Kumulchew on the grounds of disability, had failed in its duty to make reasonable adjustments and had also victimised Ms Kumulchew after she had complained of discrimination. It also noted that Starbucks had demonstrated little or no knowledge or understanding of equality issues.

Starbucks commented after the hearing that: “It is committed to having a “diverse and inclusive workforce.”

As with the rulings in many Employment Tribunal hearings, it is always good to reflect on your own policies and procedures to avoid falling foul of the rules. Dyslexia is a common condition affecting an estimated 1 in 10 people and it also affects individuals differently and it is frequently misunderstood. Many people believe that it is limited to difficulties with reading and spelling however it can also affect a person’s ability to:

  • Write most typical forms of workplace communication – letters, reports etc
  • Remember names and factual information
  • Meet deadlines and manage time

Under the Equality Act 2010 Dyslexia can amount to a disability and employees would therefore be given certain protections in the workplace.  In addition to the normal protection from discrimination, employers are also under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to prevent a dyslexic employee from being placed at a disadvantage.

This could include:

  • Special screens designed for dyslexic users of computers
  • Providing an employee with a recording device for meetings;
  • Giving verbally instructions instead of written ones
  • Allowing additional time for tasks to be completed;
  • Providing other support such as help with proof-reading

Amanda Finn, partner at Gullands Solicitors comments: “Employers should also be aware that if an employee raises a concern about the way they have been treated in relation to a protected characteristic (in this case, disability), they must take it seriously otherwise they could be found to have treated them unfairly. It is therefore important to make sure all managers within your organisation are aware of the need to take these types of complaint seriously and follow procedures to deal with them accordingly.”

Amanda Finn can be reached a.finn@gullands.com.